Friday, June 14, 2019

Franklin - A stroll through history

A small flotilla of boats at Franklin's wharf. Do they dream of the days when sail was king?

 I was intrigued by Franklin (Population around 400) which lies in the Huon Valley some 45 kilometres south of Hobart. Amid the straggle of charming cottages along the main road are some very substantial buildings such as the Palais Theatre, its pub and the bank, which attested to former glory, when so few other villages of its size boasted such amenities. 

Franklin seems favoured by both geography and history, or at least it was at the beginning. In the first instance, it lies on the wide Huon River, inside the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, making it a safe harbour for early explorers, starting with Bruni D'Entrecasteaux in 1792. Later it became an important port for the export of timber and produce and especially apples, which despite initial misgivings about the quality of its soils, it produced in abundance. Historically speaking, unlike other towns such as Dover or Cygnet, it enjoyed the distinction of not originating as part of the penal system, having been established in 1839s by Lady Jane Franklin (Governor Franklin’s wife); for the benefit of honest free settlers whom she personally interviewed, after purchasing the land from her own purse.  
The Franklin Tavern first opened as the Federal Hotel in 1853

 Although many of the original settlers left "The Settlement" as it was called, for other acreages in the vicinity -for example, the Geeves who founded Geeveston and the Judds, who started Judbury and planted the first apple trees, the little town continued to thrive, especially while the river was the only means of access to the region.  As many as 32 ships a month passed through the area collecting apples and other produce from the many jetties. Boat building also became important. In 1850, the town was renamed Franklin in honour of its benefactor and went on to become the Huon Valley's major population centre and industrial hub. In 1916 it even had its own small hydro -electric scheme on Price's Creek. 

Speaking of those heady times, one John Skinner of Huonville recalled,”   

"A trip to Franklin was the highlight of our existence. It was a big bustling town then, with trenches of all the big Hobart stores... Friday night shopping was a marvellous treat. It was a blaze of light..."

This old mill with its murals on the side is now part of the Tavern complex

The Franklin Lock -up, a small portable facility dates from around 1889. There were two of these in Franklin. This one was behind the Police Station and the other near the Courthouse
So what happened? The residents of Victoria (now Ranelagh to avoid confusion with the State of that name and other parts of the district) further upriver, had long clamoured for a road from Hobart. In 1855 a track was finally built, but instead of going through Victoria it went where Huonville now stands. A coaching service followed in 1869 and soon a hotel, shops and a wharf sprang up aided and abetted by a convict station. With the building of the bridge from there across the Huon in 1876 the importance of shipping, the mainstay of Franklin, began to decline. 

The Palais Theatre, with its fabulous Art Deco interior used to be the Town Hall and dates from 1912

A peek inside
In 1920, administration of the Huon Valley which now included other growing communities such as Cygnet, was relocated to Huonville. This marked the beginning of the end for Franklin. It even lost its hydro scheme which came under the control of the state operated Hydro Electric Commission in 1929.

 Remembering the machinations about the pipeline in Western Australia, which lead to the fall of the towns which missed out, I couldn't help wondering what underlay those decisions. Was there rivalry between the emerging townships such as there was in the late 1990s when the councils were ordered to amalgamate? At that time (1990s), the Geeveston Mayor, pointing across the river to where Cygnet lay, said, “That’s the East Bank. This side is the West Bank, and in between, well that’s the Gaza Strip and none of them will ever come to any agreement.”

The Commercial Bank and manager's residence, c.a. 1921

The Courthouse is now repurposed as a fine dining establishment which uses local produce

The postal service started in 1848 with the Post Master running it from his home. The current building dates from 1898
Examples of 1940s Green Glass/ Vaseline Glass in the second hand shop which also sells plants, clothing and books. The sign outside got me in:

Reinvention -This former church has now reopened as "The Abbey" Air B and B

Nevertheless, Franklin could still have the last laugh. While Huonville gets bigger and busier, so busy you can no longer get a parking spot on its main street, Franklin remains a pleasant stopover. Its quaint shops and cottages provide a range of food and accommodation as well as galleries and craft outlets. Many have also become the new homes of “Sea Changers.” Nor is there any shortage of entertainment. As well as the offerings at Frank’s Cider House and the Tavern, the fabulous Palais Theatre hosts concerts, a regular market and vintage movie nights and remains the home of the Franklin Folk Club.  Franklin also proudly boasts the only remaining Wooden Boat Building School in Australia and the wharf remains the starting point for river cruises and tours. 

The Wooden Boat Centre maintains old boat building traditions, restoring wooden vessels to their former glory and building new ones

A peek into the workshop

The smell of Huon Pine, one of the best materials for shipbuilding, permeates the centre

Beyond the wharf, in the middle of the Huon River, lie the Egg Islands, a conservation area for the protection of endangered species including seven threatened birds, one fish, one amphibian and two invertebrates and several plant communities. Residents have also worked hard to rehabilitate and defend Price's Creek where its power station once stood.

The Egg Islands are a low -lying geological feature in the middle of the channel between Franklin and the opposite side of the river. Although they provide habitat for a range of native species including Wedge- tailed Eagles, Sea Eagles, the threatened Australian Bittern and the Swift Parrot, the islands are themselves at risk from sea level rise

Saturday, June 08, 2019

On the Cider Trail – Part 3 Frank’s Cider House and Café at Franklin

Tardis - like, Frank's looks small on the outside but is surprisingly spacious and light inside

Who knew? June 3, was World Cider Day, so I am seasonally appropriate, if not exactly spot on with the date. I have been doing a bit more cider appreciating – this time at Frank’s Cider House and Café at Franklin in the Huon Valley.  The more I visit these establishments, the more I am conscious not only of distinctive differences in the flavour of the various ciders, but also of the differences in the style and character of the venues. What they have in common though, is an atmosphere of casual conviviality. 

Warm and cosy too

Frank’s Cider House is no different. Superficially, it’s a modest affair, in the former St. John’s Church Hall (circa 1870), tucked into the side of a valley and surrounded by apple orchards.  If you are coming from Hobart, it’s just after Huonville and the first flush of apple stands. A friendly goat – it must be the most photographed goat in Tasmania – peers down from the slope and looks as if it’s smiling in welcome.  Inside the building it’s warm, light and cosy and it also has an apple museum. In this case, it’s about Frank Clarke’s family who are into their fifth generation of apple and pear growing in the Huon. Though Frank himself has now passed on to that great apple orchard in the sky,  old family photos around the wall do give us an idea what sort of person he was – upright, war hero, family man etc.  and through them, we also get an idea of what life was like in the Valley.

Menu sourced from local producers

A traditional mechanical apple press

In those days, Franklin was an important town, with aspirations of becoming the third largest town in Tasmania as the Huon River which ran by its front door was the lifeblood of the region. In fact, it is the town with its quaint cottages and one or two substantial buildings which gives Frank’s much of its ambience and deserves a little mention in its own right.

The ladies who make lunch and dispense cider

It was cool and overcast when I arrived and there weren't many people about, but to its credit, Frank’s Cider House remains open in winter and is open every day. The smell of what seems like bacon cooking makes me ravenous, but I'm still trying to stay on my diet, so I enjoyed a mug of warm mulled cider instead. I didn’t dare ask how many calories that had or if it was gluten free – there are gluten free offerings on the menu, but it certainly hit the spot. For their popular Summer Harvest Cider, Frank’s use a sweeter apple – tree ripened Golden Delicious which has a rich flavour. There are also several fruit varieties, but alas, these are not available in small bottles.

An apple grader in the museum
Not just cider - Frank's also features live entertainment

In addition to locally sourced food and cider, Frank’s Cider House also hosts a variety of live entertainment and even has its own in – house trio, The Belle Miners which, like the cider itself –“ is sweet, aged  and  organic” –as they say, and every 4- 6 weeks Frank's hosts a comedy segment featuring some well – known names. Both fit in well with the folksy, homespun nature of cider.

Sydneysiders can sample Frank’s at the upcoming Taste of Manly, held at the beach  between 26 – 27th of May and it is of course available in bottle shops etc. though the experience is hardly the same.

-Look forward to telling you about Pagan soon and hoping that walking the length of Franklin will make up for today’s dietary deviance.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Turning the Tables - Café Auslan opens in Hobart

Rachel at work in Hobart's newest cafe

 Winter has come a bit early. Since we have been in the grip of an icy Antarctic blast for about a week, it seemed the perfect time to check out one of our newest cafés. Not that Hobart has a shortage of cafés. In Hampton Road, where this one is, I can probably count about six, without even going down the hill to Salamanca. What makes this one different, is that Café Auslan  represents a coup for the Deaf Community. 

The café is located in a former sweet shop in colonial Battery Point, just behind Salamanca

So what is Auslan and why have a café dedicated to it? Auslan stands for Australian Sign Language which is used by some 200,000 people largely by and for communicating with hearing impaired people. While similar to the 130 or so variations of sign used around the world, it is, so to speak its own language. So why do we need a cafe? About the only way I can describe it, is like this: You know the feeling you get when you first arrive in a foreign country - the frustration and confusion of not being able to make yourself understood and even having people shout at you and regard you as stupid for not doing as you've been told? That’s the kind of struggle which Deaf people face every day when dealing with the hearing world. It is source of immense stress.  How lovely then for Deaf people to be able to relax for once, to be able to socialise normally and maybe even have a bit of laugh as others try life from their perspective. 

Not so different - sweet treats and good coffee

There’s more to it than that though. As co -owner Jane who has long been an advocate for the Deaf says, “It’s about creating awareness about Auslan and about the needs of people with hearing problems.” From all accounts hearing loss is one of those invisible conditions which is rarely covered by the National Disability Scheme, yet, according to the World Health Organisation, affects around 30,000 people in Australia, about 37.5 million in the USA and around 5% of the world’s population or around 466 million people worldwide.

 Deaf people do not necessarily want to be adjusted to fit the norm. Indeed, theirs is for the most part a quite separate culture that just wants a bit more acceptance and understanding on the part of the wider society. And why should the Deaf always have to do the accommodating? According to Jane, despite decades of effort by community groups, things have changed little for Deaf people in the outside world, a few closed captioned movies or signed television news items, notwithstanding. How, for instance, should you engage someone's attention if they can’t hear you call their name? In that case, a light touch on their arm will help, as will maintaining eye contact. Giving a Deaf person a little more personal space to allow for hand movement is important too. Given that disabling deafness is expected to increase to around one in 10 people by 2050, Jane believes it’s time Auslan was taught in schools, if we are to have a more inclusive society.

Jane talks about some of the challenges faced by the Deaf, while Rachel makes a point

Lastly, the café also demonstrates what Deaf people can achieve, given a more supportive environment. A similar café in Melbourne, Trade Block is part of the Vocational Training program at The Victorian College of the Deaf and gives participants more self-esteem and the opportunity for financial independence.  It sends a message that it's OK to be different and by engaging with the public on their own  terms, it helps to break down the fear of “the other.”  As yet, there are few such vocational and employment opportunities for the Deaf, especially in Tasmania and internationally I know of only one other venue like this, one I encountered in Nepal back in 2008, but I dare say the Deaf Community in each region will know of more. If there are none in your area, it could be an idea whose time has come.   

The small selection of sweets is a nod to the building's former status as the Village Lolly Shop

For the most part this café, in the former sweet shop in Battery Point, does not differ much from its peers – good coffee, charming hosts, a selection of small treats, Devonshire teas and yes, you can have the usual range of lattes and macchiatos, including decaf and lactose-free, but as well as being smart and immaculately clean, it is almost Spartan in its décor. This is because undue clutter imposes additional stress on people reliant on visual cues. Learn more about how you can help here.

Minimalist decor and wide tables make life easier for Auslan speakers

In the meantime, I challenge you to order your coffee in Auslan, but don’t despair if you can’t. You can always point to what you would like on the menu. I still haven’t worked out how to say, “I wouldn't mind one of your vanilla slices, thanks” and wish I wasn’t on a diet. I am ashamed to admit that I don't even know how to say "Please" or " Thank you" or even "Hello" or "Goodbye." Maybe next time.
 If you need help with any aspect of hearing loss please contact

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ah yes, the Election....

Image may contain: text and water

This rather sums it up, though there were some other issues too. Climate Change obviously didn't get a look - in.

* Eloquent image nicked from Ben Penning's Facebook Page

the Cider Trail - Part 2 -The Two Metre Tall Farmhouse Ale and Cider Shed

Approach to the Two Metre Tall Farmhouse Brewery
The Two Meter Tall Farmhouse Ale and Cider Shed in the Derwent Valley is at home among the gumtrees in a former shearing shed on Ashley and Jane Huntington’s farm at Hayes, just past New Norfolk. While lacking some of the cultivated ambience of say, Willie Smith's, it certainly has the goods under the hood, notably the brewing equipment from St. Ives Hotel in Battery Point. Their dry cider is made from traditional English cider apples grown in the Huon and, unlike mass produced ciders, theirs is slowly fermented in bottles using pure apple juice and natural yeasts. The end product is unfiltered and has no additives, preservatives or sulphur dioxide. Occasionally they also make barrel -aged special editions which include fruit such as cherries or medlars, but this year's batch has already sold out.

Brewhouse with the equipment acquired from St.Ives in Battery Point
Ashley and Jane have been brewing beer here since 2004, well ahead of the growing interest in craft beer, though Ashley (the Two Metre Tall in the name) admits his first brews were not exactly what he had had in mind. Having trained and worked as a senior winemaker in France, he and Jane had planned to start a vineyard, but seeing the abundance of hops in the Derwent Valley and the bounteous supply of fruit, it was almost inevitable that he should turn to Ale and Cider instead, though the vineyard remains on the drawing board.

The business end is much more elaborate than the bar

Having pioneered craft beer in Tasmania, it seems that the Huntingtons are really onto something with cider.  In keeping with global trends which show cider sales to be up by 74% worldwide, the number of  regular cider drinkers in Australia has increased by some half a million between  2013 and 2017 according to Roy Morgan research, and now totals around 2.4 million. Kathleen Willcox,
writing in Vinepair writes that it is the happy conjunction of several trends which  which have helped things along such as the interest in artisanal produce and  the farm - to -table movement.

The other half of Two Metre Tall -  Jane Huntington dispenses some of the house cider 
 There’s no food on offer here, but guests are welcome to bring their own or to have a barbecue in the picnic area.  There’s  a real Aussie feel here. It could be the gumtrees, but it's also about the down -to  -earth attitude of its owners. The slowly matured cider isn’t half bad either.

View from the picnic area